HEAT VISION

How 'Black Widow' Prequel Can Set Marvel's Future

The first trailer for the prequel offers plenty of threads to explore for the next phase of the MCU — and even how Scarlett Johansson could continue on after 'Endgame.'

Marvel Studios is playing spy games. Early this morning, as if part of a covert mission, the studio released the first trailer for Cate Shortland’s Black Widow. The 24th film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and the start of Phase 4, Black Widow finds Natasha Romanoff on the run following the events of Captain America: Civil War (2016) and in search of answers relating to her past that may determine the future of Black Widow. Of course, we know that Natasha sacrificed herself for the Soul Stone in Avengers: Endgame, which may make the decision to launch the next era of the MCU with her seem a little strange. But given Marvel Studios’ penchant for playing the long game, it seems doubtful that Black Widow won’t be integral to the future.

The trailer opens with quick flashes of Natasha’s history in the MCU, an obituary of sorts that traces the character’s evolution from spy to full-on Avenger. It’s notable that the brief flashback to her training in the Red Room as a young woman, shown in Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015), is here, suggesting that Shortland’s film will work those scenes into context and possibly even feature an appearance by Madame B (Julie Delpy). Once the context is set, alongside the downbeat that “nothing lasts forever," we get a voiceover from secretary Thaddeus Ross (William Hurt). While it’s thought that Ross and the U.S. military will be hunting Natasha for her double-cross during the Registration Act, the dialogue between the two doesn’t come across as adversarial. It seems possible that Ross is even supporting Natasha on her mission, which makes us wonder if he’s using her to take down Russia’s Black Widow and Super Soldier program and if Natasha will once again find herself caught between the role of spy and hero.

Before we get to the new characters, what’s immediately apparent from the trailer is how distinct it looks from Black Widow’s prior MCU appearances. Yes, there are certain shot choices familiar to the espionage genre, and aesthetic choices that situate it in the MCU. But from shot composition to cinematography, these brief glimpses depict a film noticeably different in style for directors Jon Favreau, Joss Whedon and the Russo brothers, all of whom have helped shape Black Widow in the MCU since her debut in Iron Man 2 (2010). Black Widow looks like a Cate Shortland film. That may seem like a simple or thing to note, but Marvel Studios boss Kevin Feige has touted that Phase 4 of the MCU will be different from what’s come before in terms of directorial vision. And looking at the company of new MCU directors Shortland finds herself in, Chloe Zhao and Destin Daniel Cretton, it stands to reason the MCU may be moving away from the house style associated with a number of its films and landing on something a little more distinct from film to film.

A key component of the film looks to be Natasha’s relationship with her “sister,” fellow product of the Red Room Yelena Belova (Florence Pugh). In the comics, Yelena began as a villain, Russia’s new Black Widow after Natasha had defected to the U.S. and joined the Avengers. The relationship between the two was largely combative and bloody, though they have become allies in recent years, notably in the current miniseries Web of the Black Widow by Jody Houser and artist Stephen Mooney. In the film, however, it seems the two have a playful rivalry and friendship from the get-go. Eagle-eyed viewers have already noted that during the dinner table scene in the trailer, Yelena is wearing the jacket Natasha wears in Avengers: Infinity War (2018), suggesting a bond between the two that won’t be broken by the film’s end. Hopefully Natasha doesn’t end up wearing it in memory of a fallen comrade, because the presence of Florence Pugh in the MCU is too promising to be a one-and-done deal.

While we don’t know yet how the film will incorporate flashbacks, Natasha and Yelena’s mission forces them “to go back to where it all started.” Likely, this means the Red Room. After this line, we see Black Widow jump from a helicopter in a white suit. Natasha wore a suit exactly like this in the pages of Black Widow: Deadly Origin (2009) by Paul Cornell and artists Tom Raney and John Paul Leon. We also get a glimpse of a dozen or so Black Widows training, either in a flashback or the film’s present. If Natasha is infiltrating the Red Room or the headquarters of those in charge of creating the Black Widow program, then the question is, what is she looking for? We know the central threat of the film revolves around her past, and the mysterious Taskmaster, whom we see flex their compound bow skills, but the stakes of the film aren’t entirely clear yet. They may have something to do with Russia’s own Avengers.

The last 30 seconds of the trailer introduces us to Alexei Shostakov (David Harbour), aka the Red Guardian, Russia’s very own super-soldier. In the comics, this iteration of Red Guardian was Natasha’s ex-husband. In the film, based on the jab at his appearance, it seems he will be the ex of Melina Vostokoff (Rachel Weisz). In the comics, Melina goes by Iron Maiden, and she’s an assassin and eventual member of the supervillain team the Thunderbolts. Here, she’s a fellow Black Widow and seeming ally, but we wouldn’t be shocked if she makes a villainous turn. Melina was described as being involved in a scientific experiment in the character description that circulated the web earlier this year. Is it possible that she’s made some dangerous improvements on the Black Widow program? Or, if we’re going by recent Black Widow developments in the comics following the character’s death in Nick Spencer’s Secret Empire (2017), is it possible that Melina is cloning Black Widows?

For months, fans have been speculating that Florence Pugh would become the new Black Widow in the MCU, and that Scarlett Johansson would retire from the role. That first part may be true, but Johansson may find herself playing a new and deadlier widow with even more red in her ledger as a clone. A Red Widow, perhaps? There’s certain to be a number of twists in store, and the film, which Black Widow fans have waited a decade for, looks to live up to the potential of the character, her world and her secrets. We’ll find out which ones will be revealed and which ones will be saved for further down the road in Phase 4 when Black Widow lands in theaters in May 2020.

  • Richard Newby
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